UI researchers and local park districts want you to take a child outside this week.
Some parents, says Andrea Faber Taylor, will get their children outside because that's natural to them. Other parents may or may not, because they consider regular outdoor activity an accessory. That is, they'll get the kids outdoors if there's time left after schoolwork and basketball and dance and the myriad other activities that seem to fill up the days.
Faber Taylor and her colleagues at the UI Landscape and Human Health Laboratory (LHHL) want to change the way adults in this second group think. They want everyone to understand that time spent outdoors in green spaces is a key to healthy development in children. And they are active contributors to the growing body of academic research that supports the case for this perspective.
The LHHL is directed by Ming Kuo, whose expertise in cognitive and environmental psychology is complemented by Faber Taylor's knowledge of horticulture and children's behavior and environments.
Some of their most fruitful recent work has shown that a "dose" of activity in a green setting can be a useful tool for treating the symptoms of children with ADHD. Starting from the understanding that exposure to natural environments enhances attention among people in the general population, they hypothesized that the same would hold true among children with attention deficits.
In their field studies, the LHHL team compared how the children's ADHD symptoms were affected by going for a 20-minute walk in three different settings: a park, a neighborhood with trees and grass, and a downtown space lacking any significant greenery.
What they found was that a walk in a park enabled the children to perform significantly better on tests of concentration and impulse control than a walk in either of the other settings.
The field study corroborates what LHHL researchers have found through a number of surveys of parents of children diagnosed with ADHD. In the most recent of those, which collected data using a national, Internet-based survey, they found that regardless of income or gender, children who play regularly in green settings experience milder ADHD symptoms than children who play indoors or in built-up outdoor settings.
Taylor and Kuo's findings about the benefits of activity in green space for children with ADHD serve as an extension of previous research by members of the lab on the role of green space in human well-being. And it leads them to advocate for designing communities with green space in mind and making play in green space a priority in the daily life of children.
From now through Saturday, the LHHL is partnering with the Champaign and Urbana Park districts and the Champaign County Forest Preserve District to promote Take a Child Outside Week.
In addition to simply encouraging adults to get children outside, sponsors are conducting a variety of activities at local natural areas to help them do that. You can see a complete listing of those under the "Schedule of Events" tab at http://www.ccfpd.org/childoutside/.
Take a Child Outside Week sponsors are also offering educational opportunities for adults who want to develop their own understanding of how links to the natural world benefit children. On Thursday afternoon, they will host a community forum to promote dialogue among researchers, educators and the many various people who provide direct care for children. This forum will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. at the UI Activities and Recreation Center; registration is $10 in advance and $15 on site.
The highlight of the week (for adults) should be a talk Thursday night by Richard Louv, author of the book "Last Child in the Woods" and the person who coined the phrase "Nature Deficit Disorder" to describe the detrimental effects on children of growing up without meaningful connections to the natural world.
Louv's talk will take place at 7 at the UI Alice Campbell Alumni Center. Tickets for this are $10 in advance and $15 at the door, if there are seats remaining.
Environmental Almanac is a service of the UI School of Earth, Society and Environment, where Rob Kanter is communications coordinator. Environmental Almanac can be heard on WILL-AM 580 at 4:45 and 6:45 p.m. on Thursdays.